Construction of the University of Connecticut Health Center branch in Storrs Center will be completed by December, according to the Mansfield Downtown Partnership.

The UConn Health Center – whose main branch, the John Dempsey Hospital, is located in Farmington – will provide UConn, Mansfield residents and visitors to Storrs Center access to various medical services including urgent care, orthopedics, cardiology, dermatology, radiology, occupational medicine, family medicine, OB/GYN and psychiatry services.

“The health center is always considering options to expand its clinical services,” UConn Health Center spokeswoman Carolyn Pennington said. “Health center officials began thinking about expanding to Storrs back in 2010 when the (Storrs Center) development deal was reached.”

The 18,000 square foot, $4.36 million facility is being constructed as part of One Royce Circle, the second phase of Storrs Center due to be completed by the end of this year.

Construction and purchasing of medical equipment for the health center are being funded by the capital budgets for John Dempsey Hospital and the UConn Medical Group for the 2014 fiscal year, with funds for staffing and operations coming from Dempsey Hospital’s and UConn Medical Group’s operating budgets.

The health center will provide a local health care option for more than 70,000 residents in the Mansfield area and over 25,000 UConn students, faculty and staff, as well as offer convenience given its proximity to the Storrs campus, Pennington said.

“Many of the clinical specialties planned for Storrs are services that are currently underrepresented in the area,” Pennington said. “We looked at what services were currently unavailable or underrepresented in the region and tried to anticipate the need for certain specialties. With the UConn community growing, the need for even more clinical services are expected in the future.”

UConn students must either travel off campus in the event of a serious medical emergency or be referred off campus by UConn’s Student Health Services, whose own facilities are increasingly deficient in their ability to serve the growing student population, officials said.

“Our current space is outmoded and functionally inadequate to handle the current population,” Director of Student Health Services Michael Kurland said. “We need a new facility to handle a greater enrollment.”

Kurland said physicians with whom Student Health Services consults are located off campus, which forces students to travel in the event of a serious medical emergency, but that the addition of the health center to Storrs Center will provide Student Health Services with easier access to physicians should a non-routine medical issue arise.

“In the past, we have used local physician consultants or referred to physicians in Hartford or Farmington,” Kurland said. “Now we can refer locally.”

Kurland said the overlap of services between Student Health Services and the UConn Health Center will provide students with more complete, convenient access to different forms of medical care.

“We will work collaboratively and cross-refer as needed,” Kurland said. “There are certain services that are best provided by Student Health Services and some by UConn Health Center, for example orthopedics. (The health center) will offer the Storrs community high-quality and accessible medical care. Similarly, it will offer services to students that are only currently available by traveling out of Storrs.”

Despite the proximity and diversity of offerings the health center will provide students and faculty, Kurland said he expects Student Health Services to remain the primary source of health care for students on campus.

“The UConn Health Center will offer specialty and urgent care,” Kurland said. “However, we believe that most students will continue to come (to Student Health Services) for their care.”

Although the health center will offer urgent care services, UConn Fire Chief John Mancini said the UConn Fire Department will continue to use Willimantic’s Windham Hospital as its primary destination for ambulances and emergency medical services.

“We cannot take any of our patients (to the health center) because it is not a 24/7 recognized hospital,” Mancini said. “There are certain hospital regulations in the state of Connecticut that if an ambulance is transporting someone, the hospital has to meet certain criteria, and the health center would not fall into that.”

Mancini said the health center will, however, increase convenience for university employees, who are unable to go to Student Health Services to receive medical care.

“(The health center) will definitely help the campus because an employee can’t go to Student Health Services,” Mancini said. “So if they cut their finger and need attention they can get their own transportation over to the health center, so it’s going to help (employees) that way instead of having to go to Windham Hospital.”

The health center will also provide an educational resource for UConn pre-med and medical school students in the same way that Farmington’s Dempsey Hospital and other hospitals in the region, UConn pre-med program advisor Dr. Keat Sanford said.

“Students in the medical school in their third and fourth years do rotations at area hospitals, and some of that certainly happens at the UConn Medical School in Farmington,” Sanford said. “Students that are interested in pre-med try to secure some experience and shadowing opportunities in a number of different places.”

Sanford said students have historically sought out educational opportunities at a variety of regional hospitals, including Windham Hospital and Putnam’s Day Kimball Hospital, but that the addition of the UConn Health Center to Storrs Center will offer pre-med students a more convenient option.

“I would envision that the health center will provide some additional opportunities for our students to access here because there’s not a lot to access here other than what’s through Windham Hospital and occasionally other placements with physicians in the area,” Sanford said.

Sanford said that because many students do not have access to a vehicle, the proximity of the health center to the UConn campus will be an added benefit for the pre-med program.

“A lot of students in their first two years don’t have a car, so it will provide some immediate access to students who otherwise ordinarily wouldn’t have that opportunity because they don’t have a car,” Sanford said.

The addition of the UConn Health Center branch to Storrs Center is also expected to increase the amount of foot traffic in the downtown each day, Mansfield Downtown Partnership Executive Director Cynthia van Zelm said.

The Mansfield Downtown Partnership, a joint organization run by both the town of Mansfield and UConn that along with master planner LeylandAlliance oversees construction of Storrs Center, said the increase in visitors will have a ripple effect on other businesses.

Construction of Storrs Center – a $220 million project aimed at establishing a downtown community for the town of Mansfield and UConn – began in the summer of 2011, with the final phase of the project due to be finished by 2014.

“You’ll have people who need to go to physical therapy or they have a doctor’s appointment, and our goal was that they would go out and enjoy the restaurants and the other businesses that are here,” van Zelm said. “We hope it is a symbiotic relationship in that one leads to the other. That’s really the goal of a downtown: that you would do several different things in one trip.”

This story was written as an assignment for a Newswriting I course at UConn. It was not published in any news outlets.